Just Cause Eviction Protection for Tenants
The first bill was sponsored by Councilor Chuck Turner, who is working closely with the Massachusetts Alliance against Predatory Lending. MAPL currently has three pieces of legislation at the State House dealing with the issue of our current foreclosure crisis. On Wednesday, the Boston City Council approved a modified version of one of those three statutes, and three days ago there was a joint House and Senate hearing on all three bills – led by Senator Wilkerson, and Representatives Smizik, Malia, Brownsberger, and Lantigua – which I testified in support of.
Just four years ago, our city had about 20 foreclosures. This year we anticipate well over 2,000. There are currently 1,000 properties in Boston being listed for auction on foreclosure real estate sites in pre- and post-foreclosure process. Half of those foreclosures are on multifamily homes. In the last year, we’ve had 750 foreclosures on multifamily homes, with over 2,000 rental units affected in the City of Boston. Unfortunately, we think that number will rise even more over the next two years, as more balloon and ARM payments come due, as a result of some of the awful lending practices we’ve recently witnessed.
The impacts of these foreclosures have been devastating for a number of reasons.
1. Thousands of people who were preyed upon by sub-prime lenders will be made homeless, putting additional pressure on our shelters. These were individuals who were denied lawyers at their closing, who often asked about balloon payments and ARMs and were told it was nothing to worry about. They tried to do the responsible thing by buying a home, and asked the simple question of their lender “what can I afford” only to be given misleading information. These people and their families are being evicted from their foreclosed properties and sent out into the streets.
2. Thousands more renters, who paid their rents on time, who were responsible renters, and did nothing more wrong than rent from a foreclosed upon landlord, are facing eviction by these lenders. Current state law allows a lender to evict tenants from a property immediately after foreclosure, resulting in homes across the city being emptied out.
3. The repercussions of these empty homes are severe: abandoned, blighted, and boarded up properties are cropping up across the city, and looters are taking copper piping and appliances, making it ever harder to turn them over to new owners.
4. This creates a decline in all properties in a neighborhood, bringing in neighborhood decline, creating a cycle of neighborhood degradation.
I support the effort on Beacon Hill to pass all three major pieces of legislation, however the modified version of the Just Cause Eviction bill we passed in yesterday’s Council meeting is actually a very simple and would have a significant impact in Boston – especially in Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Hyde Park, where the foreclosure crisis has hit hardest.
When a foreclosure occurs on a rental property, this bill gives the renter the right to stay in their home, so long as they continue to pay the rent they were paying prior to foreclosure, and assuming they remain a tenant in good standing. This situation remains until one of two things happen:
1. The lender sells the foreclosed property to a new landlord or owner, who has the right to select their own tenants if they so choose; or
2. The lender still owns the property upon arrival of the law’s sunset clause, which is two years from passage (with the possibility of a third year extension if approved by the council and mayor).
The lender is required to notify the tenants of the foreclosure, so the tenant doesn’t continue to pay rent to the old owner – something which we have seen happen quite frequently.
This bill will help ensure that properties across Boston aren’t being emptied out, our neighborhoods are protected, and communities are ensured some stability until the foreclosured property is turned over at auction.
Bilingual Chinese Ballots
Currently federal law allows people 50 and over to become citizens of the United States without a language requirement. Yet for some reason, those same individuals are not able to vote in their language.
Imagine going to a Chinese restaurant and being handed a menu only in Chinese, and being asked to order your food. You’re at the mercy of the whims of whatever waiter you may have that day. Now imagine something as important as voting, and a translator looking over your shoulder, pointing to names on a ballot, and invading your privacy. Three hundred people came to City Hall Chambers last week to testify about the importance of legislation that would help them vote.
Last year, the Boston Elections Department did in fact transliterate names into Chinese, and the impact was impressive. While the city of Boston had some of the worst voter turnout we’d seen in a municipal election, that was not the case in Chinatown, and the ballot change was a large part of that equation. We also saw from this example that transliteration is revenue neutral – money spent on transliteration was offset by the need for fewer poll workers.
Unfortunately, transliteration is only used for municipal elections. The City of Boston does not have control over the ballots for State and Federal elections, which is why this legislation is being put forward.
Sponsored by Councilor Sam Yoon and now awaiting legislative approval, this Home Rule Petition would require ballots in precincts with a minimum threshold of Chinese voters to be available with Chinese transliterated names. Those transliterated names would have to be approved by the individuals running for office. While some have attempted to make the argument that Chinese characters have different meanings than the names of the person on the ballot, this seems pretty demeaning. Does any native English speaker get confused as to whether Tiger Woods is either a vicious feline or a tree?
These transliterated names are the same names that Chinese voters read in campaign literature and in Chinese newspapers, so this will reduce confusion and assist in voting and civic engagement – something we all should support.
These are two major initiatives taken by the Boston City Council. They could certainly be seen as controversial in some quarters, yet we were able to get all 13 votes in both cases. Now we hope the state legislature will take up both pieces of legislation with all due haste.